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Moated site and associated earthworks 270m north east of Millers Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Hilgay, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.5611 / 52°33'39"N

Longitude: 0.3972 / 0°23'50"E

OS Eastings: 562594.382144

OS Northings: 298617.216687

OS Grid: TL625986

Mapcode National: GBR N61.K6R

Mapcode Global: WHJQ0.2WFG

Entry Name: Moated site and associated earthworks 270m north east of Millers Farm

Scheduled Date: 17 March 1976

Last Amended: 2 December 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020345

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30558

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: Hilgay

Built-Up Area: Hilgay

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Hilgay All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes a medieval moated site and associated earthwork
enclosures containing a series of fishponds. These are located on the north
east side of Hilgay village, on low ground at the northern edge of an island
in the fens, where it is separated from higher ground to the north by a
peat-filled channel through which the River Wissey runs, some 300m to the
north of the earthworks.

The moat, which ranges from 10m to about 17m in width and remains open to a
depth of up to 1.5m, surrounds a rectangular central platform raised up to
0.5m above the exterior ground level and measuring some 78m north-south by 47m
internally. Access to the interior is provided by a causeway across the
western end of the south arm of the moat. At the northern end the moat is
bordered internally and externally by low banks about 7m wide which probably
served as a protection against flooding, and a depression about 1m deep and
15m wide which extends northward from the northern end of the western arm
perhaps represents the remains of an outlet channel to take surplus water from
the moat.

The three contiguous rectangular enclosures to the east of the moat extend
northward from a green lane which runs eastwards from the village, curving to
the south of the moat, and forms their southern boundary. The first of these
enclosures, adjoining the moat, measures 93m north-south by 68m internally and
contains a complex array of fishponds, visible as well defined sub-rectangular
and linear hollows, with associated water management features. One of the
ponds, measuring approximately 20m east-west by 13m, lies adjacent to the
south eastern corner of the moat and is connected to it by the remains of a
short channel, marked by a shallow depression about 5m wide and 0.5m deep,
which probably contained a sluice to control the flow of water between the
two. Some 12m to the north of the first pond and parallel to it is a second of
similar length and about 10m wide, with traces of a similar channel connecting
it to the western arm of the moat. To the east of these is a north-south
linear depression, between 4m and 5m wide and up to 1m deep at the northern
end, which extends across almost the whole length of the enclosure and perhaps
represents part of the system of leats and channels by means of which the
ponds would have been filled and drained. Beyond this, in the north eastern
corner of the enclosure, is a large, sub-rectangular, moat-like pond with
overall dimensions of 29m north-south by 22m, containing a central island
which measures 17m by 10m and is reached by a low causeway on the western
side. Parallel to the southern arm of the pond is another, about 5m wide,
immediately to the south of which are two smaller ponds from which traces of
shallower, parallel depressions extend towards the southern end of the
enclosure. The enclosure is bounded on the northern and eastern sides by a
ditch or channel up to 1m deep and 6m wide which extends eastwards from the
eastern arm of the moat and returns southward on a line approximately 7m to
the east of the ponds, the ground between being raised about 0.4m to form a
slight embankment. About 5m to the east of this latter part of the ditch, but
not quite parallel to it, can be seen traces of a second channel.

The second and third enclosures, in line to the east of the first, are
separated by another north-south ditch, embanked on both sides, and are
defined on their northern side by a modern drainage ditch which probably
follows the course of an earlier feature and which turns southwards to form
the easternmost boundary of the sequence. A single pond, about 50m long and 7m
wide, extends east-west across the centre of the middle and largest enclosure
and, although no other features are clearly visible on the surface, aerial
photographs taken of the site under wet conditions have recorded evidence for
adjacent, possibly contemporary, ponds and channels which have become infilled
but which will survive as buried features.

The third and easternmost enclosure contains two smaller ponds roughly in line
with the long, linear pond to the west. They are about 3m apart and linked by
a short, shallow depression which is considered to mark the remains of another
sluice channel. The western and larger of the two measures approximately 20m
east-west by 5m, and the other approximately 11m by 7m.

Most of the ponds and parts of the moat contain water for much of the year and
their lower fills are likely to be permanently waterlogged.

The moated site is thought to have been the centre of a manorial holding.
Three medieval manors are recorded in the parish of Hilgay, the most important
of which, held by Ramsay Abbey, was centred at Wood Hall, about 1km to the
south. A second was centred on the south western side of the parish at Modeney
Priory, which was a cell of Ramsey, and the third, known as Massingham, or
Curtey's manor and originally also within the Lordship of Ramsey Abbey, was
held in the mid and later 15th century by William Massingham and his son,
Thomas. According to the 18th century historian Blomefield, other, lesser
tenures were held at various times by the Earl Warren, the Abbot of Bury St
Edmunds, the Lord of Wormegay, Roger Bigod, the church of Ely and the Abbot of
West Dereham.

Three short wooden posts on the island of the fishpond in the north east
corner of the enclosure adjoining the eastern arm of the moat are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding
of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

The moated site 270m north east of Millers Farm, which has survived largely
undisturbed by later activity, is a good example of this class of monument and
archaeological information relating to its construction and the manner and
duration of its occupation, including evidence for a manor house and other
buildings, will be contained in the moat ditch and in deposits on the central

Fishponds, created for the purpose of breeding and storing fish to provide a
constant and sustainable supply of food, were largely built for the wealthy
sectors of society and are therefore often associated with medieval manorial
and monastic sites. The extensive series of fishponds associated with the
moated site survives particularly well, with a variety of characteristic
features, and the earthworks and the fills of the ponds and associated
channels will contain evidence for the way in which they were operated and
managed. Organic materials, including evidence for the local environment
during the medieval period, are also likely to be preserved in waterlogged
deposits in the ponds and moat, thus adding to the interest of the monument,
and soils buried beneath the raised central platform of the moated site and
the various banks will retain evidence for earlier land use.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Sylvester, R J, 'East Anglian Archaeology' in The Fenland Project 4: The Wissey Embayment and Fen Causeway, , Vol. 52, (1991), 45-48

Source: Historic England

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